A high school student in Moncton is researching why sexting and sending nude photographs and videos have become the norm among teens.
“You might not think that it has a negative effect on you, but in the long run it can really contribute to poor self-esteem,” said 17-year-old Kiona Osowski, a grade 12 student at Moncton High School.
Osowski said after her own experience with being harassed online, she decided it was time to address the issue head-on.
“Everyone told me that this is something that they all know is happening, but no one wants to talk about,” she said.
Last September, she started a research project on gender toxicity in the media, which included exploring why boys feel the pressure to ask young women to take photos of themselves naked and send it to them.
“They feel if they don’t do that action or they don’t ask for that or if they don’t interact with girls in a certain way they are not considered a man,” said Osowski.
She said her research shows that teenage girls feel compelled to comply because their behaviour is being driven by media messages that she says are toxic for young women.
“Young girls start to believe that their only purpose in society is to be an object or to be this attractive being,” she said.
Osowski has even taken the bold step to re-write the province’s personal development course curriculum to better address the issue.
She has presented her suggestions, which include in-class discussions about nude photos, media exploitation of women and unhealthy male gender representations online, to the Anglophone East School District.
Psychology teacher, Heather Gunn and sociology teacher, Chris Evans have helped Osowski in her research.
“We really just needed a strong teen voice,” said Gunn, who added that she learned a lot from Osowski’s research about the new reality of teenage life.
“There is a huge impostor phenomenon going on where they are very afraid to share their true selves and to have a true relationship and to trust.”
Chris Evans is also acting as an advisor for Osowski’s project and says that more teens at the school are now opening up about the topic.
“She is saying things that they are thinking, but she is actually the one who is going to be brave enough to be out there and say it,” said Evans.
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Osowski says she would like to see students learn how to view sexting and media through a critical eye.
“I needed to do it because I knew someone else probably wouldn’t.”